After I posted the ‘wrap up’ entry yesterday, comments arrived quite rightly pointing out that I’d omitted to include myself in the series… Dagnabbit, my plan to avoid any hard work has been foiled!
So, our eighteenth and last Place as Person poster is Mary Victoria, whom I met in a clinic in Turner’s Falls thirty-nine years ago, or perhaps a little earlier, depending on how you define human consciousness. We’ve been together ever since and generally on speaking terms, though no relationship comes without its struggles. And so…
She was old by the time I came, bare skin hanging off the bone, a toothless grin under that black headscarf. We were made for each other – I, a ridiculously serious child, and she a cackling crone remembering bygone days. She loved nothing better than to tell me the stories.
“Oh yes, they worshipped me then. Princes, kings, gods: they all came a-knocking. This old body you see was different. My limbs were firm and round, my hair golden. I burst out of the sea, the most beautiful thing the world had ever seen, and no one could resist me.”
I knew her boast was probably exaggerated (the most beautiful thing the world had seen? This was only one corner of the Mediterranean, and what about beauties other than golden?) But there was a certain truth to what she said. There had been more than these stark bones once, more than dust and rock on this bare island. She had been a goddess herself and for good reason.
Once, forests clothed her slopes, pine and ash and glinting beech. Once, she had been verdant. Her very name meant ‘forest’: she baptised the Cypress tree. The streams and green of her youth disappeared only gradually, and at the hands of her own children, the copper smiths of ancient times who cut down her trees to feed their bronze age fires. Later, the men and women populating her shores continued to disregard her fragility. They felled her sacred groves to make way for houses and hotels, damming her springs and depleting her fresh water until it reached dangerously low levels. Her own sons sucked her dry, and erosion and the modern tourist industry finished the job.
By the time I arrived in Cyprus, the birthplace of the goddess Aphrodite, in the summer of 1978, it was a place of bare chalk hills and running lizards, sun-baked and gasping for thirst. I still remember the shock of entering a mountain valley and finding the secret place verdant, with a gurgling stream at the bottom.
In ‘Rites,’ my story in the ‘River’ anthology, I visit that homeland once again and listen to the crone telling another one of her tales. This time, it’s the story of a young nymph pursued by the god Apollo. And we all know, says the old woman, giving her toothless cackle, what happened to her, don’t we?
I am so grateful to Alma Alexander for giving me the chance to participate in her ‘River’ anthology. I vouch for the veracity of Effie’s story – it is true in all but the most literal, and therefore least accurate sense.